Will film production ever return to Florida?
State Sen. Linda Stewart wants to bring back incentives for film and TV production in Florida — and she wants to use tourist tax money to do it.
“All our movies and all our filming has gone to Georgia or Louisiana, and they’re making a fortune,” said Stewart, D-Orlando. “Films and movies are huge economic drivers.”
The bill, S726, filed Tuesday, would allow counties to use the 6 percent tax charged on short-term rentals, mostly hotels and motels, to “promote or incentivize film or television productions in this state.”
The definition of “production” in Florida’s statutes also includes video games, meaning incentives could also go toward companies such as EA Sports in Maitland.
Kelly Paige, past president of film and TV production association Film Florida, stressed the bill isn’t a traditional sales tax exemption, but “only gives (productions) the opportunity to present each case individually, on its own merit,” to county boards.
In 2018, Orange County alone took in about $280 million in tourist development taxes, or TDT, and revenue from the tax has paid for the Orange County Convention Center, the Amway Center, Citrus Bowl renovations, the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts, and Visit Orlando, the area’s main tourism promoter.
In Orange County, the Tourist Development Council advises commissioners on TDT spending. Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings and Visit Orlando did not return requests for comment.
“If Leonardo DiCaprio wants to come down and film a $130 million film in the area and take five months doing so, this gives counties the opportunity to use a minimum investment on a very big return,” Paige said. “It gives them the opportunity to pitch the project to county commissions ... they’d have to have all the numbers lined up — this number of hotel nights, rental cars, dry cleaning.”
Florida needs the help, she said. “We’re dying out here.”
While a few TV productions are filmed in Orlando, including “Deal or No Deal” and “Family Feud” at Universal Studios Orlando and “David Makes Man,” an OWN series filmed in Central Florida in 2018, film and TV production has started to dry up since the state’s tax exemptions for productions expired in 2016.
The former statewide program, which provided sales and use tax exemptions on production-related purchases in Florida, had already used up the $296 million in tax credits it was allocated by 2015 and was suspended that year.
Meanwhile, production of TV shows and films such as “Stranger Things,” “The Walking Dead” and the Marvel Cinematic Universe films has been booming in Georgia, largely thanks to its generous tax credits of up to 30 percent.
Louisiana, which saw a huge dip in film and TV production af-
ter a similar incentive program was capped in 2015, has also seen an upturn since the laws were modified, the New Orleans Advocate reported last year. In 2018, Channing Tatum’s XMen film “Gambit” and Tom Hanks’ World War II drama “Greyhound” were filmed in the state, the Advocate reported.
Paige pointed to “Paper Towns,” a 2015 film based on a young adult novel by former Orlando resident John Green.
“It was an Orlando writer, it took place in Orlando, and it wasn’t filmed there,” Paige said, instead being shot in North Carolina. She said another $75 million production also passed on filling in Central Florida because of the lack of exemptions.
Film Florida plans to introduce its own proposal during the upcoming legislative session, what Paige called a “very conservative” grant program that would work on a similar level statewide.
In the meantime, “I love this bill,” she said. “It would at least get things going and get us started again.”
But skeptics of film incentives, including Andres Malave with Americans for Prosperity-Florida, criticized what they have called the “corporate welfare” of giving tax money to businesses.
A state Office of Economic and Demographic Research report from 2018, he said, showed a return on investment of just 18 cents on the dollar for the state’s use tax exemption program for the entertainment industry and 58 cents on the dollar for the sales tax exemption.
Malave said his group has talked to film industry representatives to find ways of helping filming “other than cash injections from taxpayers . ... Are regulations we can cut in any way? All taxpayers can ultimately benefit from that.”
The Central Florida Hotel and Lodging Association had been opposed to other changes in TDT funding. In 2018, the group successfully lobbied to exempt Orange, Seminole and Osceola counties from being able to spend TDT revenues on roads and other capital projects.
The association did not return a request for comment Tuesday.
“This is another opportunity they should reconsider,” Stewart said of the association. “In a yearround state, where the weather is perfect, they really should be supportive of film and movie production.”
Full Sail University students working in the Master of Fine Arts program came to Lake Eola Park in April 2016 to make a short film.